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158 of 179 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To some, prurient, to some, nostalgic, but more than that..., June 27, 2006
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This review is from: 9 songs - Unrated Full Uncut Version (DVD)
Some might consider this movie prurient, while to others it will seem sweetly nostalgic. Anyone who is looking at this review will already know that 9 Songs is famed for its full-on sex scenes. Some, however, will not be aware that it really is about the nature of memory and the waking-up to ordinary life's intangible fleeting beauty.

The main character is a British glaciologist through whose eyes, metaphorically, one "remembers" a relationship a lovely, egotistical, careless, charming, and crazy woman, not unlike the young women young men meet from time to time and with whom men try (unsuccessfully) to have a temporally enduring relationship.

Matt (Kieran O'Brien) is an ugly-handsome winsome working-class bloke made good in Tony Blair's New Britain. Lisa (Margot Stilley)is an American, obviously from what is called a "good family", curvaceously slim, statuesque (about two inches taller than Matt), educated, and unserious about both her relationship with Matt and her job. As for her "job", though we don't see much of it at all, it's obviously just a time-marking "playing about with typewriters and latchkeys and calling it work", as EM Forster called the occupations of upper middle class twenty-somethings who receive regular checks from the family back home. She a good-looking 21 year old American woman in London with time on her hands, and a liking for men.

Glaciology is a key thematic element in 9 Songs. Antarctica is a metaphor for one's memory. The snow laid down in the center of the continent becomes ice, trapping bubbles of air inside it. Those bubbles are the continent's "memory" of the weather on a certain day, a certain year. As more and more ice is laid down at the center, the earlier deposits move inecluctably toward the sea, there to be "calved" become bergs, and finally melt, leaving no trace behind.

Apart from Antarctica, there's not a lot more than performances by bands like the Dandy Warhols, Super Furry Animals, and so forth. Nine songs sung in really fun-looking London venues, to be exact, and, of course, the famous scenes of the couple making love. The lovemaking is more inferred than depicted ofttimes, but taken as a whole one would doubt that there is even a square centimetre of the protagonists' anatomies that is not unmistakably displayed in all its glory for all the world to see in this movie. The sex, for the most part, has a quality of warmly relational authenticity that anyone could recognize as very distinct from exploitative porn. As a result, the viewer seldom feels terribly voyeuristic, but rather the director seeks for the viewer to experience a reflective nostalgia, redolent of times past - which is, of course, a function of memory.

HOWEVER, the title of the film does not, I think, refer merely to the "songs" sung by the bands. My own theory is that the auteur, Michael Winterbottom, is alluding to the Chinese 13th century Yuan Dynasty cycle of poems, The Nine Songs, which is in many respects about the Shamanic quest. "Similar to the traditional shaman of Siberia, Central Asia and the Arctic, the wu enters into a trance state in performing ceremonies. However, unlike his northern counterparts, the Chinese shaman enters into a fleeting love relationship with the God (or Goddess)." [taken from Zekeriyah's excellent review of the book of the same name on this site]

You see, this film is not only about memory, and what a guy remembers about a relationship with a woman he has loved (which guys being who they are, is mostly the perceived high points, like going to shows and making love), but 9 Songs also seems to be an extended metaphor for the Shamanic quest, which in the end requires union with the mysterious Beloved other, the mythological dakini, who both enlivens and kills her lover simultaneously and then simply disappears into the sky, and leaves behind (there's that word, memory, again) as her gift a precious, elusive realization of the ugly-beautiful reality of things-as-they-are.

With that in mind, see this movie. It's not really about sex.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 13, 2012 11:19:20 AM PDT
Jerry C says:
I think you summed up perfectly what I was feeling after I saw it but couldn't quite put my finger on. Great review of a very interesting film.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 16, 2012 8:39:38 PM PDT
Steve says:
Thank you Jerry. I had to spend time considering the movie and the review before I wrote it. Of all my reviews, this is my best by far, I think. Your appreciation is very appreciated.
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